United Nations building

Fifth U.N. Day Proves ‘Inspiring, Helpful, and Insightful’ for SPIA Students

Jan 25 2024
By Tom Durso
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

More than 60 SPIA graduate students traveled to New York last month for the School’s annual U.N. Day.

About half a block west of United Nations headquarters, they met with alumni of the School and U.N. staffers on December 1 for a robust day of substantive discussions and networking.

“I registered for the U.N. Day to have a better understanding of the career development of SPIA alums in the U.N. system,” said MPA student Jing Xie. “I found the event very inspiring, helpful, and insightful.”

This was SPIA’s fifth U.N. Day since the program was launched in 2017 to help students understand how the organization operates and introduce them to the different types of positions they could potentially hold as SPIA graduates. The event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minh-Thu Pham MPA ’03 and Ambassador Christopher P. Lu ’88After breakfast, Minh-Thu Pham MPA ’03, a former advisor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a lecturer at SPIA, offered an overview of the day and then moderated the first session, a conversation with Ambassador Christopher P. Lu ’88, representative of the United States to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform. The two discussed renewing multilateral cooperation.

The first panel discussion, on how the U.N. can better address climate and development challenges when financial commitments have yet to be met, followed. Shantanu Mukherjee MPA ’00, Ph.D. ’06, director of economics and policy analysis with the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Laurel Paterson, director of Sustainable Development Goals integration at the United Nations Development Programme, were the discussants; MPA student Nathan McQuarrie moderated.

The students then broke into discussion groups led by Mukherjee and Drew Curiel MPP ’21, a political advisor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Following lunch, Pham moderated a panel discussion on how the U.N. responds to conflict and crisis. The speakers were Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group; Dawit Yirga, deputy managing editor of the Security Council Report; and Sebastien von Einsiedel, senior advisor on internally displaced persons at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The final panel, on foreign policy, diplomatic, and U.N. careers, featured Emily Garin ’02, MPA ’13, the senior director for advocacy at Sesame Workshop, who worked as a global policy strategist and a policy and advocacy expert at UNICEF for over a decade, and Glenn Hodes MPA ’02, inter-regional advisor for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Barbara Hampton, SPIA’s director of graduate career development, moderated.

Built into the schedule were several networking breaks, and the day concluded with a reception that gave students another opportunity to engage with alumni.

“It’s so wonderful to see alumni well achieved in their prospective field and how their Princeton experience has helped them tremendously. Thanks to SPIA and the team for organizing this fantastic event, and thanks to all the alums for sharing their experiences.”
Jing Xie, MPA student

Pham was the executive director of global policy at the U.N. Foundation when she partnered with SPIA’s Graduate Career Development office to organize the first U.N. Day, in 2017. She continues to play an integral role in setting the even’s agenda and identifying alumni participants, as she did for this year’s event, with assistance from McQuarrie; MPA student Ria Hanson, a graduate intern with the State Department’s Mission to the U.N. last summer; and MPP student Tanisha Hewanpola, a political affairs officer at the U.N.

While Hanson, who worked at the United Nations last summer, was unable to attend for the full day, she did make it to the closing reception, which she called enjoyable and productive.

“Students were able to mingle with each other, alumni, and others involved in U.N. affairs, using the time to discuss takeaways from the day and learn more about avenues toward future work with the U.N.,” Hanson said. “It was fun to chat with classmates about what stuck with them or surprised them from the day and compare it to my own experience. Conversations at receptions like this one have helped me choose my classes while at SPIA, informed my internship and job searches, and served as the foundations of new friendships.”